Midseason Roundup: How Miami Can Still Make the Playoffs in 2015
Before the 2015 season, there was an excitement we had not felt for many years in South Florida regarding the Miami Dolphins. The organization appeared ready to take a positive turn, and looked prepared to make a run at the playoffs on the shoulders of a seemingly dominant defense and potentially matured Ryan Tannehill.
Now? The picture is very different. While things seemed bleak heading into the bye week, coach Dan Campbell was able to turn the team around and post two wins against the Titans and Texans by large margins. However, the team was knocked off by the Patriots on Thursday Night Football last week. This was expected, as New England appears to be by far the best team in the NFL, but now Miami will have to rebound quickly if they want to keep their playoff hopes alive for 2015.
It is not over. While the kneejerk reaction of fans was to dismiss the Dolphins after their 1-3 start to the season, a combination of circumstances actually could give Miami a chance.
This Sunday against the Buffalo Bills, the Miami Dolphins will play their eighth game of 2015. This marks the halfway point for their season, and the thickening of the playoff narrative. Heading into the season, many felt that the Miami Dolphins could get off to a hot start, and would be solidly above 0.500 at this point. Although the team sits at 3-4, all is not lost.
The Miami Dolphins’ second half of the season appeared daunting when the schedule was initially released. That’s the key phrase here: “when the schedule was released”. Miami is now looking at five home games in the last nine weeks of the season, four of which are at home in Sun Life Stadium between Week 13 and Week 17. Even more important than where the games will be played is who they are against.
The Baltimore Ravens, Indianapolis Colts, and San Diego Chargers were all teams that many feared heading into this year. While the Colts will likely still be in the playoff hunt for their game against Miami (due to a weak division), the rest of Miami’s schedule hardly appears threatening.
The Ravens and Chargers both currently sit at 2-6, and show no signs of improving (considering Baltimore’s second win of the season came this past week against the aforementioned weak Chargers team). The Miami Dolphins will also play the New York Giants (4-4 and leading the NFC East) and the Philadelphia Eagles (3-4) in the second half of the season, as well as the injury plagued Dallas Cowboys.
As I said, all hope is not lost. However, it will be an uphill battle for the Miami Dolphins to make the playoffs this season. With that being said, here is what I feel would have to transpire in order for Miami to be able to sneak in as a wildcard this season.
1) Sweeping Remaining Divisional Road Games
The wildcard hunt will go through the AFC East this season. The division is the NFL’s best right now, considering all four teams are dangerous and still in contention.
Miami has no choice but to win this Sunday. They must beat the Bills in Buffalo to avoid an 0-4 divisional record. If the team wins their upcoming matchup, then there is still a chance.
The team will also have to beat the Jets in New York in a Thanksgiving weekend rivalry game. This seems less daunting than facing the Bills in Buffalo given our struggles against that team, but nobody knows what to expect with Dan Campbell at the helm.
The most important factor in making the playoffs for Miami will be winning these divisional road games.
2) Go 3-1 in the NFC East
Miami has already defeated one NFC East team (Washington in Week One), but will have to come out on top against at least two more if they want to keep their win total north of 0.500.
The Dallas Cowboys could still be without quarterback Tony Romo in three weeks, which would be very helpful for Miami. The Giants have also struggled this season, and will have to face the tough task of playing the Dolphins on Monday Night Football. The Eagles game seems difficult only because it comes at the end of a three game road stretch, which includes two divisional games.
Miami coming away with two more wins in the NFC East is required for them to post a winning record in all likelihood, and managing to sweep the division would be even better.
3) Win Two of Three Against Baltimore, San Diego, and Indianapolis
These were initially believed to be difficult games for Miami, but now appear highly winnable. If all other circumstances above were fulfilled, that would put the team at 8-5 here. That means that winning two of these three games would allow Miami to post 10 wins on the season, which would in all likelihood secure a wildcard spot in this year’s AFC.
In previous years, these would be the games that scare me. Miami has struggled greatly heading down the stretch recently, and these games would be the ones during which the team would drop-off and lose their playoff footing. As I have previously stated, Dan Campbell changes this equation. We do not know if the same fate will befall him that had afflicted Joe Philbin at the end of the season.
Campbell’s team will have to win two of these three games if they want to avoid the worst possible situation: a win and you’re in game in Week 17 against New England.
4) Week 17 Against the Patriots (Conditional)
If Miami loses two NFC East games, two of the AFC games at home, or one of the divisional road games, it could mean a must-win situation against New England in Week 17. That is the last thing any of us want, as the Patriots are clearly the league’s most dangerous team.
There is a chance however that they are playing for nothing this late in the year. If they have already lost one game, but have clinched home field advantage for the playoffs, then the game against Miami would be meaningless. It would not have any perfect season potential, or any playoff implications for them. If this were the case, they could bench starters. However, it seems unlikely that the Patriots lose a game at this point, so the ultimate question becomes whether Belichick would risk injury for the sake of 16-0, or if he would pull starters to get ready for a push.
Either way, I really don’t want to have to worry about that.
Not Dan Campbell. He is not skinny.
It ain’t easy. Miami has a very tough road ahead if they want to make the playoffs this season. A year that began with immense hype, and later appeared dead, still has a pulse.
Before many of you bombard me with angry comments about how stupid I am being for saying that this team will make the playoffs, I never did. I do not know if this team will be able to secure a wildcard spot, as the road ahead is very difficult. But, I am simply laying out the circumstances it would require for them to do so. I am going to say it one more time: I am not predicting that the Dolphins will make the playoffs. That won’t stop twenty people from accusing me of saying that, but for those of you who got to this point in the article, much love.
The main obstacle will actually come this Sunday against Buffalo. If Miami is unable to pull out that game, any run seems unlikely. But if they can pull off the upset, then there is a very good chance that a strong finish could land Miami in the playoffs at the end of 2015.